Today I was working from the cabin at TreeZone. Chris was on training and the course was closed so I had the place to myself. I continued with my editing work and looked over some of the images and templates Calum has been working on. I also needed some pictures for the info sheets so I spent the morning doing a spot of amateur photography. Unfortunately the wildlife was a bit shy, I did not have much luck or quick enough reflexes to capture anything decent on camera. However, I did get some good shots of the trees and lichen; they tend to remain a bit more stationary... suffice to say I won't be winning any awards for wildlife photography any time soon!
Chris, on the other hand, managed to capture these priceless shots a few days ago...
I have been finalising the information for the online packs and today I spoke with Calum about designing some space on the website and also drafting the information and activity sheets. Below you can see my (very) rough sketches and some draft work/info sheets from Calum. I also arranged to meet up with Julian Orsi one of the rangers at Rothiemurchus Estate to discuss the outdoor classroom that we are looking to construct at TreeZone. As well as continuing to gather useful information on the wildlife I have also been looking at various problem solving and team based activities. I have identified a few that might work at TreeZone but I will discuss this with Chris tomorrow.
I have also continued with my research on the aims and benefits of outdoor learning. Some of the key concepts to come out of this today were the idea of outdoor space as an inventive space. It is a place where children construct dens, houses, complex roadways and cities from whatever they can find. This kind of play develops resourcefulness and an ability to make-do with available resources.
Also highlighted in my reading was the chaotic and sometimes very boisterous environment of the playground. There is a survival of the fittest mentality and adults often feel they have to intervene. However, it is sometimes best to let incidents play out or have children resolve their own problems as this will help them develop emotional resilience and coping strategies instead of dependence on adult intervention.
The sensory experience of the outdoors is something that is often undervalued. The outdoors is a space where children have meaningful and connected experiences. The smells, the textures, the tastes and the physical freedom of the outdoors create a rich and diverse learning environment. This provides psychological, physiological, social and physical benefits. Children have been ‘hot housed’ in stagnant and lifeless classrooms in order to develop their cognitive skills. This has been at the cost of their motivation, enthusiasm, social skills, health and intellectual freedom.
The biggest barriers to outdoor learning, inasmuch as an outdoor lifestyle is part of outdoor learning, can be the fears of adults; the risks and dangers children face outside from physical harm to abduction or the fear that they will become a nuisance and offend neighbours, or damage the property and well kept gardens. Parents also see the outdoors as an open ended experience over which they have no control. In deciding what is in a child's best interests you sometimes have to look to the adult they could become, and not the child they are.
The children themselves have also developed their own barriers to experiencing the outdoors. The draw of technology such as games consoles or social media like Facebook have created very appealing indoor environments. However, simple things, like the type of clothing that is considered popular or cool, can hinder time spent outside in the colder weather.
A well thought through outdoor learning program could help to develop a greater appreciation of a more outdoor orientated lifestyle and could help to waylay people’s fears about the risks and dangers. Activity centres like TreeZone show people that there are safe ways to take risks. They can also help teachers and parents witness directly the positive impact of a positive, challenging and risky outdoor environment.
Bilton, H. (2010). Outdoor Learning in the Early Years - management and innovation. 3rd edn. Abingdon: David Fulton Publishers Ltd.
Phil, one of the new instructors at Boots n Paddles, is working towards gaining another qualification for his paddle instructing CV, so today I was his test pupil. I do have some previous experience in open boats but I had never been in a solo canoe before. It was windy today so Phil had hoped the Muirtown basin on the canal would provide some shelter. However, it still proved to be quite windy and initially I struggled to get the boat to go where I wanted it. I found it quite difficult to maintain a straight line and was slow at turning. The wind and my own inexperience meant that we eventually had to get out and pull the boats back up the canal a bit but once Phil had given me some pointers I found I had much more control.
You have to use your body to maneouvre the boat and at the same time think about lots of different elements in your paddle stroke. Phil first demonstrated, then had me play around with, what happened when you sat in different places in the boat. We also experimented with different paddling techniques and after a couple of hours I felt much more confident.
There is a real sense of pleasure and achievement in being able to move a boat around successfully on the water. It is hard to describe exactly what is so satisfying about this kind of activity. I think in part it stems back to what I discussed in day eight's post. There is a change of focus from your everyday worries and a re-connection with your bodies capabilities. I think that, much like our relationship with environment, we have disconnected with some aspects of what make us human. There is a simple joy to be had in the movement as well as the more in-depth mastery of kinaesthetic abilities. Couple those with an ability to explore your natural environment and you have a very powerful tool for improving physical and emotional wellbeing.
The enjoyment of this experience was increased by Phil's expert advice. His tips and pointers sped me through a process of learning that would be far more time-consuming and frustrating if attempted unaided. The role of the instructor has its obvious links with that of a teacher. Despite the riskier environment, and the less formal relationship between instructor and client, I recognised many of the character traits prized in the teaching profession in the way that Phil worked. The patience, care and the way Phil communicated with me created an environment I felt comfortable making mistakes in. His encouragement and praise also helped to build my confidence. I am now looking forward to getting out doing a bit more boating in the next few weeks.
Sunday was spent working alongside Chris and Roger. They gave me more training on the day-to-day running of the course. I helped set up and inspect the course in the morning. This involved checking the condition of the cables for the speed-runners and the general condition of the obstacles. This involved a bit of undignified swinging around to re-attach some of the cables that are taken down over night. Roger also talked me through the correct procedures for attaching customers at the Zipline.
During the rest of the day I helped out with various instructor tasks. I took a turn at introducing customers to the course and taking the safety briefing and under the careful supervision of Chris I set up the Zipline for the customers and sent them on their speedy way. One of the younger children in the first group got scared and had to be rescued so I got to see Chris and Roger jump into action, lowering her from the course using the rescue equipment. The girl was obviously very frightened but Chris and Roger were very good with her and re-assured her as they helped her down from the course.
This situation reminded me that for some people the course presents more than just a physical challenge for some it is a psychological one. I think that is one of the big differences between outdoor learning and outdoor pursuits. Outdoor learning is not entirely synonymous with the adrenalin junkie domain of outdoor sports. For many outdoor sports may have acted as a route into a greater appreciation of our diverse environment but there are other avenues. From what I witnessed today some outdoor programs are equally as at risk of alienating children as a curriculum that is too academically focused. There must be options and an appreciation that everyone is different. Those using outdoor learning as a teaching tool must remember to explore different contexts and activities. Curriculum for Excellence identifies that almost all subject areas, and their associated experiences and outcomes, can be taught with an outdoor twist. How or when this is most appropriate is really a question for individual teachers to answer; based on their knowledge of the children in their care.
After several days of research Chris and I now have most of the information we need for the teacher packs and for the educational provision on-site at TreeZone.
There will be an online pack which with downloadable resources:
On-site at TreeZone their will be:
The next step will be to begin working on the appearance and content of the online resources and the signage. Chris already has some contacts for creating the signs and Calum, a senior member of the Boots n Paddles team, will help out with the online resources. I will need to take some pictures around TreeZone for use in the online packs and I have also contacted one of the Countryside Rangers at Rothiemurchus regarding the outdoor classroom.
The information we are providing will cover learning for the age group 7-12 (7 is the youngest age of child permitted on the course). However, I am less sure about provision for the 12-14 category as this is a bit outside my area of expertise. On the other hand a lot of the information we have gathered was new to me so I think it should be useful to some of the secondary teachers as well. Although, as they are all subject specific teachers I guess it depends on which teacher is accompanying them, if it's biology, or outdoor learning staff then we probably have it covered otherwise I'm not so sure! I think including some puzzles or team-building based challenges might be a worthwhile inclusion for this age group.
(School groups generally don't bring children much older than 14 but again the information and provision may be useful to older groups as well).
Having spent several days researching what can be learned in the outdoors, I have also started looking at the reasons why outdoor learning is important and what we actually mean by outdoor education and learning. I am writing with some reference to the three texts cited at the end of this piece, as well as the guidance from Curriculum for Excellence. However, I am also taking a more general view that stems from my own thoughts and experiences.
Outdoor education is, for most, a fun experience and is often viewed as having huge benefits in terms of building social and personal relationships. Its educational focus is often viewed in terms of its benefits in instilling positive personal attributes; encouraging resilience; improving motivation and fitness or its role in youth work projects and place-based education, such as the study of geography. It is also considered more often in relation to activities such as rock-climbing, hill-walking, mountaineering or even caving.
However, having spent several days researching the ecology of the area around TreeZone I can see the important role our relationship with the environment plays in our own emotional and physical well being. Education in ecology should be more than simply acquiring knowledge about different species or thinking scientifically and empirically about nature. There must also be an affective mode of thinking about the world that stems from a more aesthetic experience of it.
The man-made environments in which many of us live and work are often quite harsh and unforgiving and we struggle to find our place in them. This should not be the case in the natural world as we already have a place in it we are connected to it, depend on it and are part of it, just as we are connected to others for the same reason. Much of the emotional disconnect many people feel in relation to their world and their relationships with other people stem from a too heavy a focus on the human environment. Consumerist concerns and everyday problems create
an environment that focuses on your skills, your worth to others and a need for material goods. For those with less this can seem a daunting and unrewarding place to live.
By getting people to explore their natural spaces several things can be achieved. First, they will begin to reconnect with an environment that in many ways is our natural space, a place which is not simply there to provide for us but is a place in which we belong. Second, achieving sustainability and a balance with our environment will only be possible through spending time in our outdoor spaces and wilderness and by starting to gain a true understanding of the complex ecosystems that we are part of. Real understanding and knowledge of nature will develop through a combination of real experience, scientific thinking, an appreciation of it's aesthetic beauty, as well as an understanding of the emotions it can evoke in us. If we view our learning in these ways we will begin a journey that goes beyond simple participation in thrill-seeking pursuits or hours of categorising and identifying species.
Most who venture into the outdoors will have had experiences, possibly whilst staring out across a beautiful vista, as the sun slips away below the horizon, where they felt that 'moments like this are what life is all about'. In order to understand the self, others and the environment we must become mindful and attentive. Be refocusing our attention through outdoor learning we should begin to find new ways to deal with the strains of every day modern life as well as finding a place our place in a world that needs us to understand it and protect it.
Quay, J. (2012). 'More than relations between self, others and nature: outdoor education and aesthetic experience', Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor learning, 13(2), pp. 142-157. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2012.746846.
Nicol, J. (2012). 'Entering the Fray: The role of outdoor education in providing nature-based experiences that matter', Educational Philosophy and Theory. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2012.753383.
Higgins, P. (2002). 'Outdoor education in Scotland', Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor learning, 2(2), pp. 149-168. doi: 10.1080/14729670285200261.
Scottish Government (2012). Curriculum for excellence through outdoor learning. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/cfeOutdoorLearningfinal_tcm4-596061.pdf (Accessed: 21 March 2014).
I have been gathering information about wildlife, trees, lichens, mosses and fungi for the teacher resources, activity trail and new signage over the last two days. This has given me time to investigate some of the native Scottish species such as the red squirrel and the Scots pine. From my research I am starting to gain an understanding of the importance of each species in the local ecology and also the unique habitats that are found in the Scottish highlands. I was surprised by the sheer diversity of life found in areas such as the Cairngorm plateau. As a hillwalker and climber I have often found these areas to be quite barren and I never really taken the time to notice the plants, animals and other organisms such as the lichens that live there. I am often to focused on where I am heading, the peak, the climb or whatever the goal is that day. Now that I have a little more knowledge I will definitely take the time to notice and look for some of the living things explored in my research.
The focus of my research has come through ongoing communication with Chris and Mike about what they want for TreeZone. The plan is to create an area on the TreeZone website where teachers can download information and activity sheets which focus on the habitats and species that are found on the TreeZone site. Initially we had discussed looking at the area around the site and into the Cairngorm National Park itself but as the idea is to add value to the TreeZone experience so it makes more sense to focus on the species present on-site and to create activities and resources for use within the grounds of the assault course.
We are going to create an activity trail with signage around the TreeZone site and hopefully an outdoor classroom area where teachers can spend some time with the children. The idea is to get them to enjoy the challenge of the course but also to spend some time appreciating the environment in which it was built.
My first activity was a staff training session on the off-road Segways run by Mike. The venue is just across the road from TreeZone. Roger, Josh and Chris from TreeZone and Jon and Phil from Boots 'n' Paddles also attended. The Segways were great fun, although as a consequence of my own excitement I did manage to fall off...
The rest of Saturday was spent with Roger and Chris helping out with sessions on the TreeZone course. I was given the full customer experience as part of my induction and I witnessed how much enjoyment the other customers got from the physical and psychological challenge of the treetop course. As part of my induction I also started my training on the instructors equipment and safety techniques with Chris. Sunday was a full TreeZone day and it was spent getting further training on the safety equipment and ropework as well as the setting up and closing down procedures for the course.
There were several groups in throughout the day which allowed me to get my first instructing experience, I spent most of the day in charge of the the lower end of the zip-wire and also helped some of the customers who were struggling on the course by guiding them round and giving them some encouragement. The latter gave me a chance to practice with some of the instructor equipment.
It was a very positive and exciting working environment but it also required a fair amount of focus. With both my own and the customers safety to think about you had to be on the ball and quick to deal with any issues before they became a real problem. I found it very rewarding and some of the fears, attitudes and emotions demonstrated and experienced by the customers gave me plenty of food for thought in terms of outdoor learning and the benefits it could hold.
My first two days at TreeZone were spent discussing the teacher packs and possible activities for school groups with the centre manager, Chris Ellison. We had a look through what other centres provided and discussed what would be feasible and what might work best for TreeZone. Over the two days we decided to focus on the wildlife, plantlife, fungi, lichens and mosses that grow and live in the woodland area. The outline plan is to provide worksheets and an activity trail at the centre and some online resources in the form of lesson plans, information on the species, possible curricular links and an area full of ideas of follow on activities so teachers can spend a full day in the area.
My first day was spent at the Boots 'n' Paddles main office at Cabrich near Inverness. There I met with, Mike Dunthorne, the owner of the two companies I will be working for over the next six weeks. He gave me a quick tour around the office before briefing me on his expectations and the thinking behind agreeing to my placement.
Mike outlined my main tasks; firstly to help create teacher resources for use by school groups visiting the TreeZone aerial assault course which is based on the Rothiemurchus estate near Aviemore. Second to train as a TreeZone instructor and finally to experience some of the other activities that the Boots 'n' Paddles side of the business provide. Mike told me that one of the motivations behind the teacher packs was that many of the teachers felt that the TreeZone experience was quite short. They had asked about further activities that might extend a school group's time at the centre. He felt that providing teacher resources and creating some other activities that could be done on-site at TreeZone would add value to the experience.
I spent most of my first day continuing my research into resources available from other outdoor providers. This was in preparation for my initial meeting with the TreeZone manager Chris Ellison, with whom I would be working directly on the educational activities and resources. Mike also discussed all the different groups they work with, these range from school and youth groups to corporate team-building events and hen and stag parties. He also discussed the roots of his business incuding his time as a senior instructor at another local activity centre. Mike has a real passsion for the outdoors and was very knowledgeable about the Curriculum for Excellence guidelines on outdoor learning. From the conversation I had with him I could tell that this was more than just a business enterprise and that he had a genuine interest in the positive impact outdoor experiences can have on people.
I also had a chance to meet Alison who dealt with much of the administrative and booking side of Boots 'n' Paddles as well as Phil and Jon, two of the instructors working for Mike (it was actually Phil's first day as well). Jon showed me around the store and discussed the huge variety of activities that Boots 'n' Paddles had to offer. This included raft-building, mountain-biking, white-water sleds, archery, open-boating, kayaking, hill-walking, gorge-walking, abseiling, rock climbing, mini-highland games and even inflatable hamster ball type things for running about in on the water. Jon seemed very enthused about the range of activities provided and told me Mike was always open to new ideas.
I felt very welcome at Boots 'n' Paddles and I look forward to meeting Chris and his team down at TreeZone and working with them over the next few days.